A Dry White Season (1989)

R | 106 mins | Drama | 6 October 1989

Director:

Euzhan Palcy

Producer:

Paula Weinstein

Cinematographers:

Kelvin Pike, Pierre-William Glenn

Production Designer:

John Fenner

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
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HISTORY

The following title card appears at the end of the film: “1989: The South African government continues to ban, imprison, torture and murder the men, women and children who oppose apartheid. Since a State of Emergency was declared nationwide in 1986, 50,000 people, including children as young as eleven years old, have been held without being charged of any crime…some for as long as 850 days. This film is dedicated to the thousands who have given their lives and to those who carry on the fight for a free and democratic South Africa.”
       End credits include the following statements: “‘Portrait De Dora Maar’ 1937 by Pablo Picasso ©Spadem 1989”; “For Hannah & Henri Marie-Joseph”; “The director and producer wish to give special thanks to all those whose time, testimony and research made this film possible, and to the people and government of Zimbabwe”; “This film was developed in association with the Sundance Institute”; and, “This film was made on location in Zimbabwe and at Pinewood Film Studios in England by Davros Production Services.”
       In a 17 Apr 1990 LAT article, novelist André Brink stated that he turned down writer-director Euzhan Palcy’s invitation to work on the screen adaptation of A Dry White Season (New York, 1979), and noted the following differences between his novel and the film: the character “Melanie Bruwer’s” role was reduced significantly in Palcy and Collin Welland’s screenplay, and the character “Susan du Toit” came across as more well-rounded and sympathetic in the film. As noted in a 17 Sep 1989 NYT article, Palcy also added a revenge killing to the climax which did not take place in the ... More Less

The following title card appears at the end of the film: “1989: The South African government continues to ban, imprison, torture and murder the men, women and children who oppose apartheid. Since a State of Emergency was declared nationwide in 1986, 50,000 people, including children as young as eleven years old, have been held without being charged of any crime…some for as long as 850 days. This film is dedicated to the thousands who have given their lives and to those who carry on the fight for a free and democratic South Africa.”
       End credits include the following statements: “‘Portrait De Dora Maar’ 1937 by Pablo Picasso ©Spadem 1989”; “For Hannah & Henri Marie-Joseph”; “The director and producer wish to give special thanks to all those whose time, testimony and research made this film possible, and to the people and government of Zimbabwe”; “This film was developed in association with the Sundance Institute”; and, “This film was made on location in Zimbabwe and at Pinewood Film Studios in England by Davros Production Services.”
       In a 17 Apr 1990 LAT article, novelist André Brink stated that he turned down writer-director Euzhan Palcy’s invitation to work on the screen adaptation of A Dry White Season (New York, 1979), and noted the following differences between his novel and the film: the character “Melanie Bruwer’s” role was reduced significantly in Palcy and Collin Welland’s screenplay, and the character “Susan du Toit” came across as more well-rounded and sympathetic in the film. As noted in a 17 Sep 1989 NYT article, Palcy also added a revenge killing to the climax which did not take place in the novel.
       A 26 Oct 1983 Var news item reported that Jorge Semprun was adapting Brink’s novel for Franck Apprederis to direct. However, the 17 Sep 1989 NYT article made no mention of Semprun or Apprederis when stating that Warner Bros. senior vice president Lucy Fisher optioned the novel in the early 1980s, for Warner Bros. executive David Puttnam to produce. Colin Welland was hired to write the first draft, according to a 29 Sep 1989 LAT article. When Puttnam left Warner Bros. for a position at Columbia Pictures shortly thereafter, producer Paula Weinstein, who had been developing another project about South Africa by Trevor Griffiths, replaced him and was assigned to the project. At the Sundance Institute in 1986, Weinstein met writer-director Euzhan Palcy, who had read A Dry White Season two years earlier, according to production notes in AMPAS library files. The women began collaborating on an adaptation of the novel after Weinstein rejected Welland’s script and another draft by Allison Cross. Warner Bros. dropped the project in 1987, just before British director Richard Attenborough’s anti-apartheid film Cry Freedom was set to be released. However, within days, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s (MGM) Alan Ladd, Jr. agreed to finance the project.
       Weinstein submitted the script to reclusive actor Marlon Brando through his former agent, Jay Kanter. As stated in a 25 Sep 1989 NYT article, Brando, who made his return to feature films after an eight year absence with A Dry White Season, agreed to work in the politically-minded film for no pay, and planned to donate the $4,000 union scale he was paid, as mandated by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), to anti-apartheid causes. Brando stipulated that his character be changed from “de Villiers,” an Afrikaner name, to “McKenzie,” a British name, and that his scenes be shot in London, England, instead of Zimbabwe, where the rest of filming was set to take place. Fellow cast members Donald Sutherland and Susan Sarandon also agreed to work for less than their usual fees. The film’s budget was reportedly $9 million, according to several contemporary sources including the 17 Sep 1989 and 25 Sep 1989 NYT.
       Weinstein and Palcy made separate research trips to South Africa, as noted in the 29 Sep 1989 LAT. After her first application for a travel visa to the country was denied, Palcy lied about recruiting crew members for a comedy film to be shot in Zimbabwe and was granted a six-day visa, according to the 17 Sep 1989 NYT. Based on her stay in South Africa, the writer-director added many details to the script, including “scenes of Gordon’s children explaining their activism...Gordon’s wife being evicted from Soweto after his death,” and “a prisoner being tortured with bondage, electricity and near suffocation.” In an 11 Jan 1990 The Times (London) article, Colin Welland stated that he was paid off after writing a couple of versions of the screenplay but received first screenwriter credit, to be listed before Palcy’s, after a Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) arbitration.
       Principal photography began 26 Apr 1988, according to a 4 May 1988 DV item and 11 May 1988 Var production charts, in Harare, Zimbabwe, where forty-five locations stood in for South Africa, as stated in production notes and the 25 Sep 1989 NYT. A crew of 120 locals were hired, and between 4,000 and 5,000 extras were used. Mafekose, one of Harare’s oldest townships, doubled as Soweto. There, 2,000 schoolchildren received three days’ leave from school to appear in demonstration scenes. To replicate Johannesburg’s John Vorster Square Police Headquarters, filmmakers shot exteriors of the Air Zimbabwe offices in Harare and interiors at the Zimbabwe Travel Centre. Many white police officers depicted in the film were South African exiles. The London, England, portion of filming was scheduled to take place the week of 5 Sep 1988, according to a 1 Sep 1988 LAT article, which noted that the rest of filming had been completed weeks before.
       Reviews were mixed. A Dry White Season was compared to 1987’s Cry Freedom by many reviewers, including Sheila Benson who, in her 15 Oct 1989 LAT review, called Palcy’s film “a tract, dry rerun of Cry Freedom. ” Benson singled out Brando’s “McKenzie” as an “ironic and subtle” exception to the rest of the cast’s “obvious” performances. In a more positive review, the 13 Sep 1989 Var lauded the performances overall, as well as Palcy’s “visceral style.” According to a Nov 1989 Box review, the film grossed $11,912 per screen at seventeen engagements in its opening weekend in New York City; Boston, MA; Los Angeles and San Francisco, CA; Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, Canada; Seattle, WA; and Washington, D.C. A 4 Oct 1989 Var brief noted that 250 prints would be added when the film was put into wide release on 6 Oct 1989.
       Several contemporary sources, including the 4 Oct 1989 DV and 6 Oct 1989 LAHExam, reported that Brando was angry about the editing of his scenes and demanded a recut, even after the film was already in release. The actor accused MGM/UA of reducing his character’s screen time and insisted that the cuts “diminished the value of the picture,” according to LAHExam. DV also noted Brando’s claims that he was forced to re-write his part because it was not ready when filmmakers arrived in London, and that he and Donald Sutherland took over direction of their courtroom scenes from Palcy.
       The film was initially banned in South Africa after the country’s appellate board of censors found it to be a “biased and highly emotional threat to public disorder,” as stated in a 29 Sep 1989 LAT article. An exception was made for four screenings at the Weekly Mail Film Festival in Sep 1989 after a “weeks-long battle between festival organizers and censors.” According to the 17 Apr 1990 LAT, the film was finally approved for a Jul 1990 South African theatrical release in Mar 1990. A 19 Jun 1992 Screen International item later reported that A Dry White Season was banned “after a handful of screenings” in 1990, but reissued the week of 8 Jun 1992 “to largely positive reviews and no hint of public or official outrage.”
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
Nov 1989.
---
Daily Variety
4 May 1988.
---
Daily Variety
4 Oct 1989.
---
LAHExam
6 Oct 1989.
---
Los Angeles Times
1 Sep 1988
Section H, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
22 Sep 1989
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
29 Sep 1989.
---
Los Angeles Times
29 Sep 1989
pp. 21-22.
Los Angeles Times
15 Oct 1989
Section I, p. 34.
Los Angeles Times
17 Apr 1990
Section E, p. 1.
New York Times
17 Sep 1989
Section A, p. 17.
New York Times
20 Sep 1989
p. 19.
New York Times
25 Sep 1989
Section C, p. 15.
Screen International
19 Jun 1992.
---
The Times (London)
11 Jan 1990.
---
Variety
26 Oct 1983.
---
Variety
11 May 1988.
---
Variety
13 Sep 1989
p. 31, 36.
Variety
4 Oct 1989
p. 8, 22.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Presents
A Paula Weinstein Production
A Paula Weinstein Production
in association with Star Partners II, Ltd.
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
3d asst dir
Unit prod mgr, Addl crew - London
1st asst dir, Addl crew - London
2d asst dir, Addl crew - London
3d asst dir, Addl crew - London
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Addl photog
Addl photog
Cam op
Focus puller
Focus puller
Focus puller
Cam asst
Cam asst
Cam grip
Asst grip
Gaffer
Best boy
Still photog
Cam op, Addl crew - London
Cam op, Addl crew - London
Cam op, Addl crew - London
Focus puller, Addl crew - London
Focus puller, Addl crew - London
Clapper loader, Addl crew - London
Clapper loader, Addl crew - London
Cam grip, Addl crew - London
Cam grip, Addl crew - London
Best boy, Addl crew - London
Gaffer, Addl crew - London
Film negative processed by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Supv art dir
Art dir
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Storyboard artist
Storyboard artist, Addl crew - London
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Chief standby props
Props
Props
Props
Const mgr
Supv carpenter
Chief standby props, Addl crew - London
Chief standby props, Addl crew - London
Standby dressing prop, Addl crew - London
COSTUMES
Ward supv
Ward mistress
Ward asst
Ward asst
Donald Sutherland's dresser
Ward asst, Addl crew - London
Ward asst, Addl crew - London
MUSIC
Featured score performance by
Songs performed by
courtesy of Warner Bros. Records
Addl vocal performances by
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Sd asst
Sd maintenance, Addl crew - London
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Foley artist
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff supv
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst
Spec eff supv, Addl crew - London
Spec eff tech, Addl crew - London
Spec eff tech, Addl crew - London
Spec eff tech, Addl crew - London
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Makeup artist
Chief hairdresser
Asst hairdresser
Chief makeup artist, Addl crew - London
Chief makeup artist, Addl crew - London
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting dir
U.S. casting by
Prod supv
Tech adv
Loc surveyor/Tech adv
Legal adv
Consultant to the prod
Dialect coach
London dial consultant
Scr supv
Prod accountant
Loc accountant
Prod coord
Prod coord
Transport/Loc coord
Prod's/Dir's secy
Prod asst
Asst to the dir
Asst to the prod
Prod runner
Local accountant
Casting assoc, U.S.
Casting asst
Casting asst
Crowd casting
Crowd casting
Casting asst/Action vehicles
Catering mgr
Scr supv, Addl crew - London
Post prod exec
STAND INS
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunt coord
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel A Dry White Season by André Brink (New York, 1979).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Unomathemba," written by Joseph Shabalala, performed by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, courtesy of Warner Bros. Records, produced by Danny Lawson for Night After Night, Ltd.
"Umusa," written by Joseph Shabalala, performed by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, courtesy of Warner Bros. Records, produced by Danny Lawson for Night After Night, Ltd.
"Yini Kodwa Yini," written by Joseph Shabalala, performed by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, courtesy of Warner Bros. Records, produced by Danny Lawson for Night After Night, Ltd.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
6 October 1989
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 20 September 1989
Los Angeles opening: 22 September 1989
Production Date:
began 26 April 1988 in Zimbabwe
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Lenses/Prints
Cameras & lenses by JDC; Prints by Deluxe®
Duration(in mins):
106
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
United States, Zimbabwe
Language:
English
PCA No:
29741
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1976, black South Africans are forced to live in Johannesburg’s segregated townships due to “apartheid,” a policy enforced by white Afrikaners. One day, a white schoolteacher named Ben Du Toit is approached by Gordon Ngubene, his black gardener, whose son, Jonathan, was caned for a crime he did not commit. Although Ben is usually sympathetic to Gordon’s needs, he refuses to help him find a lawyer, feeling certain that Jonathan did something to deserve his punishment. Gordon and his son return to the poverty-ridden township of Soweto, where schoolchildren are planning a protest march to demand English-language education. Although Gordon forbids Jonathan participating, the boy joins hundreds of other children the next day as they march through Soweto. They are stopped by South African security forces, who throw tear gas into the crowd. When a boy throws back one of the canisters, police begin shooting and mayhem ensues as many children are shot and killed. Fleeing from police, Jonathan rushes to a young girl’s aid when she cries over her younger sister’s dead body. The boy is dragged away by police, and later, Gordon finds his son missing. His friend, Stanley, accompanies him to the police station, where an officer denies that Jonathan was arrested. Gordon and his wife, Emily, check for Jonathan’s body at the morgue, where the corpses of dead children are laid out on the floor. He misses two days of work, prompting Ben to confront him the next time he gardens outside the Du Toit residence. Gordon explains that Jonathan went missing after the protest, where many children were shot and killed by police. Despite his initial disbelief, Ben offers to help and calls ... +


In 1976, black South Africans are forced to live in Johannesburg’s segregated townships due to “apartheid,” a policy enforced by white Afrikaners. One day, a white schoolteacher named Ben Du Toit is approached by Gordon Ngubene, his black gardener, whose son, Jonathan, was caned for a crime he did not commit. Although Ben is usually sympathetic to Gordon’s needs, he refuses to help him find a lawyer, feeling certain that Jonathan did something to deserve his punishment. Gordon and his son return to the poverty-ridden township of Soweto, where schoolchildren are planning a protest march to demand English-language education. Although Gordon forbids Jonathan participating, the boy joins hundreds of other children the next day as they march through Soweto. They are stopped by South African security forces, who throw tear gas into the crowd. When a boy throws back one of the canisters, police begin shooting and mayhem ensues as many children are shot and killed. Fleeing from police, Jonathan rushes to a young girl’s aid when she cries over her younger sister’s dead body. The boy is dragged away by police, and later, Gordon finds his son missing. His friend, Stanley, accompanies him to the police station, where an officer denies that Jonathan was arrested. Gordon and his wife, Emily, check for Jonathan’s body at the morgue, where the corpses of dead children are laid out on the floor. He misses two days of work, prompting Ben to confront him the next time he gardens outside the Du Toit residence. Gordon explains that Jonathan went missing after the protest, where many children were shot and killed by police. Despite his initial disbelief, Ben offers to help and calls a British lawyer named Ian McKenzie. Ben later receives word from McKenzie that Jonathan died in the riot and was buried in an undisclosed place. Ben tries to stop Gordon from investigating further, but the man wants his son’s body. At night, Ben reads a newspaper report that fifty-eight children were killed and 700 injured during the protest. The next day, Gordon approaches a black janitor outside John Vorster Square police headquarters and learns that the man saw Jonathan alive. Back in Soweto, Jonathan’s friend, Wellington, whose arms were broken, describes the torture he endured at the hands of police. From another room, the boy overheard Jonathan crying out in pain, then going silent before police announced plans to take him to the hospital. Although Gordon’s black lawyer, Julius, takes notes, his papers are later seized when police break into the Ngubene home and arrest Gordon. His wife, Emily, visits Ben at school and informs him that her husband is in police custody. Ben goes to see Col. Viljoen, who defends the security forces’ actions and accuses Soweto residents of being ungrateful, but agrees to allow Emily to bring Gordon a change of clothes. Meanwhile, Gordon is tortured by Captain Stolz and two policemen, who beat him bloody and subject him to waterboarding. Emily returns to Ben with several of Gordon’s teeth, which she found in the pockets of clothes she retrieved from the police station. Ben discusses the issue with his family, but his wife, Susan, and married daughter, Suzette, maintain racist attitudes and disapprove of his attempts to help the Ngubenes. Later, Stanley informs Ben that Gordon is dead. Although police claim the death was a suicide, Ben sneaks into Soweto to see Gordon’s dead body, which is covered in bruises and wounds. Melanie Bruwer, a white reporter for The Daily Mail, asks to question Ben, but he declines. Learning that Emily wants an inquest into Gordon’s death, Ben vows to assist her. He goes to the office of Ian McKenzie, the lawyer who helped him find Jonathan. Although McKenzie believes there is no justice in South Africa, he agrees to take the case. In court, McKenzie presents Gordon’s teeth and pictures of his mangled body as evidence of torture, but a dentist named Dr. Herzog claims he removed the rotted teeth and Capt. Stolz insists Gordon caused his own wounds by thrashing about his cell like a wild animal. A black witness named Archibald Mabaso is called to the stand and asked about Gordon’s well-being the night before his death. Although Mabaso signed a statement saying Gordon seemed well, he reveals that the police forced him to lie and removes his shirt to show the lash wounds on his own back. Mabaso is ushered out of court, and, later, the judge rules in favor of the security forces. Ben comforts Emily after the verdict, hugging her in front of the courthouse. The embrace is photographed for a newspaper article, and Suzette reprimands her father for shaming the family. Ben goes to the home of journalist Melanie Bruwer, who predicts Mabaso will be killed after changing his testimony. They discuss the injustices of the South African legal system with Melanie’s father, Professor Bruwer, and Ben accuses Melanie of cynicism. She counters that he is only taking his first step in understanding the truth about apartheid. Ben is increasingly ostracized by his family and colleagues. Susan demands he stop advocating for the Ngubenes, and claims South Africa is the only civilized place on the continent thanks to white people. Ben disagrees and claims he is choosing truth. As Emily launches a civil lawsuit, Ben helps her by obtaining affidavits. The dentist, Dr. Herzog, refuses to comply, but several Soweto residents come forth with information, including a nurse who saw Jonathan arrive at the hospital in a semi-conscious state after being tortured by police, and a black police officer, Johnson Seroke, who witnessed Gordon’s torture. Soon after he speaks with Stanley and Ben, Seroke is shot dead at his home. Police raid Ben’s house but do not find the affidavits, as he has hidden them in a secret compartment inside a wooden box. Although Ben’s son, Johan, is questioned by Capt. Stolz and bullied at school, he stands by his father and encourages him to continue the fight. Ben learns from Melanie that Dr. Hassiem, the man who performed Gordon’s autopsy, has been released by police. He goes to see him, and Hassiem provides Gordon’s autopsy report. The headmaster of Ben’s school fires him and asks for Johan to be removed. Later, a drunken Stanley interrupts the Du Toit’s Christmas celebration, prompting Susan to pack her bags and leave in disgust. Ben reprimands Stanley, who reveals that Emily was beaten to death by police after refusing to leave her home. One day, Suzette arrives to pick up Johan and sees Ben showing the boy where his affidavits are hidden in the garage. Later, shots are fired into Ben’s house, and the garage is bombed. Ben panics, but Johan reveals that he moved the affidavits in anticipation of Suzette telling the police. Melanie is deported just before Ben receives the last crucial affidavit from Wellington, the boy who was tortured alongside Jonathan. To deliver the affidavits to the Daily Mail, Ben devises a decoy plan. He lies to Suzette, saying he needs her to store some sensitive materials for him, knowing she will alert the police. They arrange to meet at a pizza parlor, while Johan rides his bicycle to newspaper headquarters to deliver the affidavits. Leaving Ben behind at the restaurant, Suzette delivers his package to Stolz, who opens it to find an art book and a note that reads, “No one is free until all are free.” Outside the pizza parlor, Stolz runs Ben over with his car multiple times. Seeking revenge for the deaths of Jonathan, Gordon, Emily, and Ben, Stanley shoots Stolz outside his home. That morning, the Daily Mail publishes a story about police brutality based on the affidavits. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.